Because I review a whole tv series rather than individual episodes, there is a chance of spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the whole series yet, stop reading now!
It seems like we’re in the middle of a “golden age” of British sitcoms. It’s in doing this blog and beginning to review television shows that I realised how many sitcoms I watch and how good the British ones are. This year alone has seen Cuckoo, Bad Education and Moone Boy. It’s also seen the return of Red Dwarf (properly) and also new seasons of Trollied, The Thick of It and Friday Night Dinner.
I’ve spoken before about the recurring family dynamic in any sitcom. It’s the go to “situation” because everyone is familiar with it in their own personal way. How that dynamic is shifted or changed is the way in which each individual sitcom tries to distinguish itself from the others. Royle Family went for the more traditional aspect, Moone Boy used its Irish location and eighties setting to add something slightly more unique and Friday Night Dinner sets the comedy around a families attempt to have a meal on a Friday night.
There is nothing too unusual about the family, it consists of a Mum, Dad and two brothers, but the brilliance of it is the interaction and “strangeness” of the family. The interaction is seen best when the two brothers constantly prank, show-up and bicker with each other in increasingly creative ways. The first season saw them pouring salt into each other’s drinks. This season sees one force another into a river to retrieve a precious stuffed rabbit, only to have a dog collect it after the brother has entered the water.
The rivalry between the boys is enough to watch the show for alone. They have a great, realistic relationship. From their “nicknames” for each other, the way in which they “play-fight” and scuffle, through to the natural way they forget all of that and join forces, even if it is momentarily, when their Mum or Dad says or does something bizarre.
When it comes to bizarre, the Dad, played brilliantly by Paul Ritter, manages to be one of the most “normally unusual” men on television. He doesn’t necessarily do anything utterly crazy but just walking around constantly topless or drying fish in the under-stairs cupboard, are just small glimpses at the weird character he plays so brilliantly.
Strange is covered even more in probably the best person in the whole show. In a sitcom that stars comedy talent like Tamsin Greig and Simon Bird, its Mark Heap as next door neighbour Jim that manages to steal the show with his brief but brilliant performances. I defy anyone not to laugh when he pulls his hand back sharply, terrified of his own dog Wilson. In fact, the creators make of the best decisions by giving him an episode which centers around him bringing his own brand of chaos to one of the families Friday meals.
The show is very funny and very well written and although the characters are great, this season did feel like it was becoming too silly. The first season was great because even though the pranks were sometimes extreme or the conversations weird, it had a feel of realism about it. This season they seem to push that boundary, with the Gran becoming locked in the boot or a run-in with a house-burgler. Its funny, but it’s not as clever as the first season was.
This is just a small gripe in a show that highlights how consistently brilliant British sitcoms are becoming. From old favourites to Peep Show making a ninth season comeback to newer sitcoms like Trollied showing that there are still some fresh ideas in British comedy, Friday Night Dinner also manages to produce a successful show in a sitcom area that has become heavily diluted, the modern family.
Overall, there is a lot to like about Friday Night Dinner. The brothers rivalry is played brilliantly, Paul Ritter’s character needs to be seen to be believed and Mark Heap manages to steal the whole show with often two or three scenes in a single episode. Its lost some of its magic from the first season but it’s still a great example of how good British sitcoms are at the moment.
Best Episode – The Mouse; Mark Heap gets a whole episode to bring chaos in more ridiculous and brilliant ways.
Best performance – Mark Heap as Jim
Should there have been another season? – There’s plenty here and there is still enough life in the show in for a season 3.
Season Rating – 4
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)